Ahead of this year’s Turkish Grand Prix weekend, the focus had been on McLaren and Lando Norris’ decision not to pit for intermediate tyres in the closing stages of the Russian Grand Prix. On that day such a decision resulted in McLaren and Norris losing what at times looked like a certain victory. In Turkey, tyre choices were in the headlines again. However, this time Aston Martin’s driver, Sebastian Vettel, was the one taking full responsibility for deciding to switch to dry tyres despite damp conditions during Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul Park.
A person cannot become a 4-time Drivers’ F1 World Champion without making bold decisions but unfortunately, this past Sunday, Sebastian Vettel’s boldness came back to haunt him.
During a Turkish Grand Prix which saw no retirements and no DRS activated, it would take something big to get a jump on your rival. As such, with the race 36 laps old, the Aston Martin driver sensed there was an opportunity to get the undercut on a host of on track competitors by selecting dry medium compound tyres in the tricky conditions at Istanbul Park.
As the colour stripe of the compound was televised during Sebastian Vettel’s approach to his Aston Martin garage, the sight was met with disbelief by those commentating. This response was due to a clear belief that the Istanbul Park circuit was still wet in parts and therefore finding grip would be a challenge to say the least.
Sebastian Vettel was running in P10 when he opted to pit and he believed the risk to be worth the reward. However, as he headed out of pitlane with ‘a fresh set of boots’ he was met with a level of grip echoing the farcical scenes a year previously.
In 2020, when the recently replaced track surface combined with rain resulted in an ice rink for the drivers, the drivers had a nightmare keeping their car pointing in a straight line. Now, Vettel faced similar problems a year later as he failed to generate sufficient heat in his tyres after having made the decisive (albeit incorrect) call.
To the surprise of no one, after a most challenging slow out-lap which saw Sebastian Vettel run off track on several occasions in his Aston Martin AMR21, he was straight back into the pits to replace his medium compound for new inters. Although, not without having first escaped a spin in the pit entry which Vettel did incredibly well to keep out of the barrier.
Speaking after the Turkish Grand Prix, the 4-time Drivers’ F1 Champion did not shy away from responsibility. Sebastian Vettel made clear that even though it was a team decision he had the final call. A call which resulted in an 18th place finish for the man who had been on the podium the previous year.
"Together [we made the dry tyre call] but in the end I made the decision, I wanted to try to go for it," Vettel told the media. "On the inters there was nothing left, so I thought the dry tyres could be as good but I couldn't break them in and just had no grip and lost so much time as I couldn't make them work.
As soon as I left the pits, I knew it was the wrong decision,” admitted Vettel afterwards. "It was worse than I expected, even if it was damp a little bit here and there, or wet. But the main thing was I couldn't break the tyre in and then you are just sliding on the top.
Even though the decision was met with disbelief by those looking on, Vettel explained the reason he was tempted to make such a move.
"It is a no-brainer [call] now but at that time I don't know. I was tempted some laps before and the inters were not getting any better. If you look at the inter tyres there is nothing left on them, they look like a slick, so I think I had reason but obviously it was the wrong decision."
Last year I was thinking 15 laps to go that I wanted to try the slick tyres when the track was a little bit worse so I thought it was worth a go but it proved to be wrong." Vettel concluded.
Following this, even though the call was an incorrect one, we can see that Sebastian Vettel is back to his bold fighting best. A man eager to take a risk and that mindset will stand him in good stead for 2022 when F1 effectively hits the reset button.
Yes, Sunday’s decision in Turkey may have been the wrong call this time. However, don’t be surprised to see such moves result in a return to the podium for the much-loved German racer in the future.